Certification Marks 101

A certification mark is any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce with the owner’s permission by someone other than its owner, to certify regional or other geographic origin, material, mode of manufacture, quality, accuracy, or other characteristics of someone’s goods or services, or that the work or labor on the goods or services was performed by members of a union or other organization. Think the Good Housekeeping seal.

Here are some examples of “green” certification marks:

Mark ImageMark ImageMark Image

But beware – It’s a common marketing tactic to affix trademarks to products that have the “look and feel” of a certification mark, but in fact are just the seller’s own mark with self-awarded accolades. Also, even with true certification marks, these marks are only as good as the reputation they have for the objectivity and rigor with which the certifying party applies its standards.

The legislative authority for certification marks in the U.S. comes from U.S. Code section 15 U.S.C. §1054.

Collective marks and certification marks registrable

Subject to the provisions relating to the registration of trademarks, so far as they are applicable, collective and certification marks, including indications of regional origin, shall be registrable under this Act, in the same manner and with the same effect as are trademarks, by persons, and nations, States, municipalities, and the like, exercising legitimate control over the use of the marks sought to be registered, even though not possessing an industrial or commercial establishment, and when registered they shall be entitled to the protection provided herein in the case of trademarks, except in the case of certification marks when used so as to represent falsely that the owner or a user thereof makes or sells the goods or performs the services on or in connection with which such mark is used. Applications and procedure under this section shall conform as nearly as practicable to those prescribed for the registration of trademarks.

Applications for new green certifications are on the rise at the Trademark Office. To follow the trends in the volume of green certification, tune in to our weekly round-up of green marks.


  1. Tweets that mention Certification Marks 101 | Sustainable Marks -- Topsy.com Said,

    August 20, 2010 @ 10:50 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by sustainblemarks, sustainblemarks. sustainblemarks said: Sustainable Marks: Certification Marks 101 http://sustainablemarks.com/2010/08/20/certification-marks-101/ […]

  2. Greenwashing Sins, Part I: Hidden Trade-Offs | Sustainable Marks Said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 11:06 am

    […] silence on an issue as to the features it touts. Also, consumers should rely on reputable certification marks to help guide them in avoiding hidden […]

  3. First UL Safety Certification Awarded for Solar Cells | Sustainable Marks Said,

    September 13, 2010 @ 6:34 pm

    […] First UL Safety Certification Awarded for Solar Cells ShareLast week at the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference in Valencia, Spain, SoloPower, Inc., a California-based manufacturer of photovoltaic solar cells announced that it had become the first in its industry to receive the right to display the Underwriters Laboratories’ “UL” safety certification mark. […]

  4. FTC Proposes Revisions to the Green Guides | Sustainable Marks Said,

    October 7, 2010 @ 10:15 am

    […] Click here to download a copy of the full report. Click here for an executive summary. […]

  5. S.C. Johnson Settles Greenlist Greenwashing Suits | Sustainable Marks Said,

    July 11, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

    […] alleged that the presence of the mark misled consumers into believing that the products had been certified as environmentally-friendly by an objective third-party, when in fact the GREENLIST mark is not a […]

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.